First of all, there’s the name — Will Burnham.
It sounds like a quarterback’s name, feels like a QB’s name, and it has that built-it joke that radio announcers will no doubt dance all over when Burnham throws a long TD pass.
You can almost hear them now, saying, “Well, Will burned ‘em.’’
He’s smart and runs well. He’s got a good arm that has all the promise of turning into a great one. He’s young (just a sophomore) and his confidence grows daily.
What he is not is Nic Shimonek.
But that’s just fine with the players and coaches at Mildred High School, who said good-night to Nic, who is now at Iowa looking for a brilliant college career. He had one at Mildred. Shimonek’s numbers were staggering. He left after throwing 99 touchdown passes in his career, and won the Daily Sun’s Golden Circle De Thrash Player of the Year Award. He led Mildred to the state semifinals s a junior and to the state title game as a senior, and threw for 2,718 yards and 35 TDs last season and 8,215 yards for his career.
“We’re not asking Will to be Nic,’’ Mildred coach Billy Dan Chambliess said. “We’re asking Will to be Will.’’
Burnham, who has never played quarterback steps into those massive shoes, but give him a bit of time, and the Eagles are sure that he will be a perfect fit at Mildred, where they are still going to run that high-octane spread offense.
“I feel really good about him,’’ said Mildred tailback and defensive back Draylon Sterling. “He’s already shown a lot of progress, and I think he will get better and better. At first I was a little iffy. But after watching Will play in 7-on-7 this summer I could see him developing, and could see how far he has come. By the middle of the season there will be no doubts about him as a quarterback. I think we’ll be as good as we were last year.’’
That would mean another trip to the state title game, and Sterling will have a lot to do with that. He was the Golden Circle Defensive Player of the Year last season as a junior after making 128 tackles, picking off four interception and tossing in a couple of sacks for good measure. Sterling rushed for 1,948 yards last season, and is one of the preseason choices for the Del Thrash Award for 2013.
Simply put, Burnham will have a lot around him to help ease into the transition, including All-Golden Circle receiver Mikey Muncey, who had 43 receptions for 790 yards and 10 TDs last year.
The Eagles believe in Burnham, who is making the transition from receiver to quarterback.
“He’s got a chance to be great. He’s got a chance to be real special,’’ Mildred quarterbacks coach Brett Zamzow said. “He’s got a good athletic body and a good athletic mind. He can run and he can throw. He had the combination at quarterback we were looking for. We’ve told him, ‘You’re not Nic Shimonek. You’re Will Burnham. Just be Will Burnham.’ ’’
That’s the message Burnham has heard over and over. He also knows the expectations at Mildred are sky-high again. Texas Football not only has the Eagles as the favorite to win the district title, but predicted another Final Four appearance.
“I like it,’’ said Burnham of the lofty expectations. “I know there are expectations of this team getting back to where we were last year. We definitely have a lot (besides me) There’s Draylon and Mikey and a great offensive line. I’m definitely not going to have to do it on my own.’’
The Eagles also have kicker Devin O’Sullivan, who was the All-Golden Circle kicker last season. He kicked four field goals and had 26 touchbacks on kickoffs, and he has been deadly accurate on PATs. He needs 43 PATs this season to become the all-time record holder for all classes in Texas.
Mildred has plenty of talent to make a run, and that’s why the biggest question is at QB. But Burnham exudes confidence after learning the new position.
A summer of 7-on-7 has done wonders for Burnham, who admits he started slowly.
“I wasn’t really surprised when I got it,’’ he said. “I knew I had to do it. I had never played quarterback. I had been a receiver and a running back in junior high. When I first started I couldn’t throw a spiral. But playing 7-on-7 really helped me a lot.’’
The fact is, Burnham worked hard and simply got better and better.
“He is leaps and bounds from when he started playing 7-on-7 and to where he is now,’’ Chambliess said. “We just wanted to see little bitty steps at first, as long as he was moving forward. He has done that. He has really gotten better, and will continue to get better.’’
Burnham has something else to help lead this team as a sophomore.
“He’s got a lot of heart and a lot of want-to,’’ said senior Jasper Marshall, who anchors the offensive line at center. Marshall has started 29 games in a row for the Eagles, and will reach 30 when Mildred opens on the road Friday night in Como-Pickton. “He’s new at quarterback, but I think he will be pretty good for us. His mind is in the right place.’’
Marshall believes this Mildred team can make another run.
“If we all come together we’ve got a chance to get back there,’’ he said. “Once you get up there you get that taste and it’s always there. It’s always on the backburner. You always want more.’’
The tradition at Mildred may be just what this team — and its new QB — need to get back to the title game one more time. Mildred has gone 26-3 over the last two years, and everyone from Chambliess to Burnham wants that success to continue.
“This team is hungry,’’ Sterling said. “And we’re closer than we were last year. We’re hanging out more with each other and have really become a close team. I wouldn’t trade this team for anybody.’’
First of all, there’s the name — Will Burnham.
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